Hy­per Light Drifter Ouya, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Heart Ma­chine For­mat Ouya, PC (tested), PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now (PC), TBA (Ouya, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)

The Drifter’s res­pawn an­i­ma­tion takes sec­onds. At times, it feels like an age. You’ll likely find your­self ir­ri­tat­edly thumb­ing the face but­tons, but he won’t rise any quicker. In a world where death comes swiftly and of­ten, this is a bold choice, but a nec­es­sary one. It’s a re­minder not to rush back into the fray; that there’s only so much pun­ish­ment you can take. More cru­cially, it says much about the Drifter him­self. Even with­out fore­knowl­edge of the game’s semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal el­e­ments, there’s some­thing mov­ing in the way he slowly hoists him­self to his feet. His body may be weak­ened by de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness – and, in our hands, by fre­quent de­feat – but he’s pre­pared to defy it. His spirit wills him to go on and so, de­spite every­thing, he does.

So, de­spite every­thing, will you. Hy­per Light Drifter’s world is so co­pi­ously stuffed with se­crets and rid­dles that, even with­out the lu­mi­nous pixel art to com­pel you to con­tinue, there’s al­ways an im­pe­tus to in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther. So re­luc­tant is it to re­veal any­thing with­out your prompt­ing, in fact, that it with­holds all but the most es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion. Within mo­ments, you’ll have learned how to heal – which in it­self says a lot – but your ba­sic sword at­tack and dash move are yours to dis­cover. As, too, is the cur­rency. The map, and an early glimpse at what looks like some form of schematic, sug­gests your main goal with­out ex­plic­itly re­veal­ing what your mo­ti­va­tion might be for achiev­ing it. And while the south­ern exit from the cen­tral vil­lage hub is ob­structed, you’re free to wan­der north, east or west.

The early 2D Zelda games are an ob­vi­ous touch­stone, though you’re not a wide-eyed ex­plorer like Link, but a no­madic war­rior, con­sis­tently fac­ing un­favourable odds. Of­ten you’ll en­counter beasts in the field but, as per tra­di­tion, you’ll some­times be bar­ri­caded in with a host of op­po­nents, and only by de­feat­ing them all will you re­move the block­ade. De­feat­ing them re­quires care­ful crowd con­trol, not least as the spa­ces you’re con­fined to can be claus­tro­pho­bic and clut­tered. You’ll soon un­der­stand the im­por­tance of pri­ori­tis­ing threats as you al­ter­nate be­tween swing­ing your sword and fir­ing your cur­rently equipped gun. Stay­ing at a safe dis­tance isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble, be­cause the only way to re­fill your ammo is to land a suc­cess­ful melee at­tack, while a lengthy cooldown for your grenade means it should only be used in the direst cir­cum­stances.

The ex­pres­sive an­i­ma­tion con­veys con­vic­tion and pre­ci­sion in ev­ery dash, swipe and shot, but this isn’t a game that will al­low you to chain end­less com­bos, and it laughs at the idea of in­vin­ci­bil­ity frames on your dash or charge at­tacks. Heal­ing takes time, re­quir­ing you to make space where it’s usu­ally at a pre­mium (think Dark Souls’ Es­tus flasks rather than Blood­borne’s vials). As such, there’s a sweaty des­per­a­tion to com­bat that only height­ens the ela­tion at sur­viv­ing the more dif­fi­cult bat­tles. Should you per­ish, Heart Ma­chine does you a rare kind­ness by re­turn­ing you to the room prior to the one in which you fell.

Not that ‘room’ is al­ways an ad­e­quate de­scrip­tion for th­ese in­tri­cate spa­ces, which can be elab­o­rate, sprawl­ing af­fairs. Se­crets are squir­relled away in dis­tant cor­ners and hid­den al­coves, be­hind break­able ob­struc­tions and across chas­mal gaps, ne­go­ti­ated via con­cealed plat­forms that flash into ex­is­tence at spe­cific trig­ger points. Over time you’ll no­tice fa­mil­iar tells – floor lights trail­ing into walls, scraps of pa­per, sus­pi­cious clus­ters of ice crys­tals – and although there’s too much wall-hug­ging in­volved in un­earthing some sur­prises, largely you’re sim­ply in­vited to study your en­vi­ron­ment more closely.

And why wouldn’t you, when it looks this good? Neon aqua­marines and ma­gen­tas add an ’80s-sci-fi sheen to fa­mil­iar moun­tain, desert and for­est biomes. Birds flut­ter and wa­ters rip­ple around a flooded tem­ple as you pass by a drowned Ti­tan, the mouth of its moss­cov­ered skull agape, its fingers claw­ing at the sur­face. There are ru­ins and ro­bot­ics, tan­gles of vines and wires, sug­gest­ing a bat­tle of sci­ence and na­ture, past and fu­ture. You’ll stum­ble across piles of blood­ied crea­tures; later, you’ll look around a room strewn with the warm corpses of the re­cently slain. As grim as it gets, there are glim­mers of life and hope in the few fig­ures you en­counter, even if their gnomic ut­ter­ances and pic­to­rial tales leave you with as many ques­tions as an­swers.

The sound­track, too, speaks to a bleak world­view, which un­ob­tru­sively sup­ple­ments the un­set­tled, dis­eased mi­lieu. At times, it’s hard to tell where the mu­sic ends and the ef­fects be­gin: in qui­eter mo­ments it drops to a faint whis­per, and else­where you’ll hear bassy, por­ten­tous rum­blings. The sign of a world with a gnaw­ing ache at its very foun­da­tions, per­haps? The thrum of some an­cient ma­chin­ery whirring deep be­neath the sur­face? Or a her­ald of im­mi­nent dan­ger?

It’s usu­ally the lat­ter – and just oc­ca­sion­ally, the in­ten­sity can feel pun­ish­ing rather than ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Af­ter a third or fourth en­emy wave spawns in a sin­gle room you won­der if you’ve missed a trick and they’re go­ing to keep com­ing for­ever. And your heart will sink af­ter fail­ing at the far end of an ex­tended gaunt­let when it dawns that the en­trance, and thus the check­point, was the best part of ten min­utes ago.

Yet you’ll grit your teeth, be­cause there’s al­ways a rea­son to con­tinue – whether it’s a fresh mys­tery, a showy dis­play of ki­netic swords­man­ship and gun­play, or a thrilling mis­match against a tow­er­ing guardian. As much as you may have found, there’s a per­sis­tent sensation there’s plenty you haven’t. Look again at the Drifter as he sum­mons the will to pick him­self up once more, and be in­spired. Crum­pled, bruised, hack­ing up blood but still some­how de­ter­mined to carry on: if he can keep go­ing, then you surely can.

Even with­out the lu­mi­nous pixel art to com­pel you to con­tinue, there’s al­ways an im­pe­tus to in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther

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